After a spectacular run of seven wins in eight games with even the loss being an admirable effort, the Hurricanes fell flat for the first time in 2019 with a lackluster effort and loss to the Rangers on Tuesday. On the one hand, the team was not just going to storm through the rest of schedule without losing. But on the other hand, the abysmal December still has the team teetering on the edge of playoff extinction and unable to absorb another losing streak.
So a home game against an Ottawa Senators team that sits at the bottom of the Atlantic Division standings is well-timed. The game is definitely one that the Hurricanes should win and really must win. But in the NHL there are no guarantees and games like this can prove to be a trap.
On the Canes side, there a couple key developments since the Hurricanes left the ice in New York on Tuesday. Most notable is Thursday’s trade that sent Victor Rask to Minnesota for forward Nino Niederreiter. Also of significance is injury news at the goalie position. Curtis McElhinney is out with a lower body injury. That development has Alex Nedeljkovic recalled theoretically to be the backup. But in addition, Petr Mrazek was part of a crease crash collision in practice. Check in with the team’s preview to see if Mrazek is good to go or if Nedeljkovic could be pressed into action for his first NHL start.
For a bit of extra fun, the game is the regular rendition of Star Wars night which makes for some great photo ops and other fun.
My watch points are follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Ottawa Senators
1) Resolve and effort
With an extended break for the All-Star Game followed immediately by the team’s bye week now in sight, the team needs to empty the tank in these last four games before the break. After a ‘meh’ effort on Tuesday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can regroup, start on time and push hard for a full 60 minutes. If the team can do that, the probability of winning against the Senators is high.
2) Nino Niederreiter
I have yet to read if he will be in the lineup on Friday, but with the trade occurring mid-day Thursday, the chances seem good that Niederreiter could make his Canes debut. First, I will be watching to see where Brind’Amour slots him in the lineup. As I noted yesterday, best guess is that he slots on a lower line to acclimate, but longer-term he will likely get an audition on the top scoring line with Aho/Teravainen. If he is in the lineup, Friday’s game will offer a first impression of what Niederreiter might add to a Hurricanes team that is trying to find one more higher gear.
If Mrazek is in net, the game mostly seeks more of the same. The Hurricanes netminding has maybe been less lights out in the past few games but in total continues to be a strength. If Nedeljkovic is pressed into service then the goaltending jumps to the top of the watch list for his first NHL start. Nedeljkovic has the pedigree and possibly that ‘it’ factor that makes him the type capable of just seizing an opportunity. But at the AHL level, his play has been a mixed bag. Regardless of who starts, I will be watching to see if goaltending can continue to be a positive.
The puck drops at 7:30pm at PNC Arena.